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Ancient Quarry Uncovered in Jerusalem


A massive quarry , along with workers tools and a 2,000 year-old key, have been uncovered at an excavation site in the Ramat Shlomo Quarter, Jerusalem, prior to the paving of a highway, the Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) announced.

The area of quarry that has so far been unearthed covers an area of around 11,000 square feet and dates back to the Second Temple Period (538 BC to AD 70). From this site, huge stones measuring about 6.5 feet in length and weighing hundreds of tonnes, would have been extracted from the site and used in the construction of the city’s ancient buildings.

"The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings," Irina Zilberbod, IAA excavation director, said in a statement. "What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment."

Archaeologists suggest that the site was used due to its abundance of Meleke rock, which is easily quarried and hardens immediately after being cut and shaped. The transportation of the rocks would also have been made easier by its location which was elevated above the city of Jerusalem, enabling the stones to be taken downhill. However, scientists remain perplexed as to how the giant stones would have been moved along the road to the area of construction.


    Jerusalem's Ancient ɼity of Quarries' Reveals City-Building Rocks

    A huge quarry, along with tools and a key, used by workers some 2,000 years ago have been discovered during an excavation in Jerusalem prior to the paving of a highway, the Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) announced.

    The first-century quarry, which fits into the Second Temple Period (538 B.C. to A.D. 70), would've held the huge stones used in the construction of the city's ancient buildings, the researchers noted.

    Archaeologists also uncovered pick axes and wedges among other artifacts at the site in the modern-day Ramat Shlomo Quarter, a neighborhood in northern East Jerusalem.

    "The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings," Irina Zilberbod, IAA excavation director, said in a statement. "What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment." [ In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World ]

    Some of the huge stones would've reached about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length and weighed tens if not hundreds of tons, the researchers said.

    In total, the team uncovered an area of around 11,000 square feet (1,000 square meters) where the ancient quarry would've existed. The quarry connects with other previously identified quarries, all of which seem to be situated in Jerusalem's so-called "city of quarries" dating to the Second Temple period.

    In a dig reported in 2007 and completed before the construction of an elementary school in the Ramat Shlomo Quarter, IAA scientists had uncovered another Second Temple quarry. The stones from this quarry, some of which reached 26 feet (8 m) in length, would have been used by King Herod for his Temple at the Temple Mount and other monumental buildings, according to the IAA and news reports. (Temple Mount, also called Noble Sanctuary by Muslims, is a religious site in the Holy Land of Jerusalem.)

    As for what made this area in Jerusalem such a draw for rocks, the researchers suggest the Meleke rock formation there may be part of the reason. Meleke rock, they say, is easily quarried and hardens immediately after being cut and shaped (or hewn). Also, this area would've been elevated above the city of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, possibly making transport of the enormous stones easier since the trek would've been downhill.

    In fact, researchers discovered a first-century road adjacent to the quarry that may have been used for stone transport.

    The scientists aren't certain how exactly the giant stones would've been moved along this road. They suspect oxen and wooden rollers would've done the trick, but some historical records note giant wood-lifting devices were around at the time and may have been used.


    Ancient quarry proves human impact on landscape

    Aerial view of Kaizer Hilltop with three sampled rock surfaces marked in black circles. Credit: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

    Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem uncovered in central Israel the earliest known Neolithic quarry in the southern Levant, dating back 11,000 years. Finds from the site indicate large-scale quarrying activities to extract flint and limestone for the purpose of manufacturing working tools.

    In a research paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of archeologists, led by Dr. Leore Grosman and Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, showed how inhabitants of the Neolithic communities changed their landscape forever.

    "Humans became more dominant and influential in their terrestrial landscape and Kaizer Hill quarry provides dramatic evidence to the alteration of the landscape," said Dr. Grosman.

    Kaizer Hill quarry is the first of its age, size and scope to be revealed in the southern Levant, where the Neolithic culture is believed to have begun and farming communities have developed. The introduction of farming is widely regarded as one of the biggest changes in human history, and "domestication" of the landscape was a significant process in the changing approach to nature.

    The quarry is assigned to the Neolithic Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) culture, one of the incipient cultural stages in the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming way of life.

    Hebrew University archaeologists analyze cup marks on rocks at Kaizer Hill quarry. Credit: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

    The gradual transition to agricultural subsistence, when people learned how to produce their food rather than acquiring it, was accompanied by a changing attitude to 'landscape' and the practices of using the surrounding nature for the benefit of humans.

    "The economic shift, from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, was accompanied by numerous changes in the social and technological spheres. Various quarrying marks including cup marks showed that the cutting of stones was done in various strategies, including identifying potential flint pockets creating quarrying fronts on the rocks removing blocks to allow extraction of flint creating areas for quarrying dump and using drilling and chiseling as a primary technique for extracting flint," said Prof. Goren-Inbar.

    Researchers suggested a new interpretation to bedrock damage markings on the site of Kaizer Hill quarry, located on a 300 meter-high hill on the outskirts of the sprawling city of Modi'in, some 35 km west of Jerusalem.

    Step-like morphology of the quarrying front on the rocks. Credit: Gabi Laron

    "At the peak of the hill we found damaged rock surfaces, providing evidence to quarrying activity aimed at extracting flint nodules and exploiting the thick layer of caliche (a sedimentary rock locally known by the Arabic term Nari)," said Dr. Leore Grosman.

    "The ancient people at the time carved the stone with flint working tools (for example axes). This suggestion differs from the commonly held view, which considers all features defined as cup marks to be devices that were primarily involved in a variety of grinding, food preparation, social or even symbolic activities," researchers wrote in their paper.


    Jerusalem Quarry Discovered

    Israeli archaeologists have discovered a quarry from the Herodian period north of the Old City of Jerusalem. The quarry was revealed in the course of construction of Highway 21. The IAA press release describes the results of the excavation.

    An enormous quarry from the time of the Second Temple (first century CE) was exposed in recent weeks in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the paving of Highway 21 by the Moriah Company. A 2,000 year old key, pick axes, severance wedges etc are also among the artifacts uncovered during the course of the excavation.
    According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The quarrying phenomenon created a spectacular sight of bedrock columns and steps and craters of sorts that were the result of the rock-cuttings. What remained are rock masses in various stages of quarrying, and there were those that were found in a preliminary stage of rock-cutting prior to detachment. Some of the stones that were quarried are more than 2 meters long. The giant stones were probably hewn for the sake of the construction of the city’s magnificent public buildings”.
    Zilberbod explains, “The pick axes were used to cut the severance channels around the stone block in the bedrock surface and the arrowhead-shaped detachment wedge, which is solid iron, was designed to detach the base of the stone from the bedrock by means of striking it with a hammer. The key that was found, and which was probably used to open a door some 2,000 years ago, is curved and has teeth. What was it doing there? We can only surmise that it might have fallen from the pocket of one of the quarrymen”.
    The enormous quarries that were exposed – totaling a 1,000 square meters in area – join other quarries that were previously documented and studied by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Research has shown that the northern neighborhoods of modern Jerusalem are situated on Jerusalem’s “city of quarries” from the Second Temple period.

    The rest of the press release considers the questions of why this area was attractive to ancient quarriers and how they moved the stones to the building sites.

    In September 2007 another Herodian quarry (location, photos) was discovered in the same neighborhood. In July 2009 a quarry was found on Shmuel Hanavi Street. Today’s story is also carried by the Times of Israel.


    Ancient Holy Land quarry uncovered, team says

    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli archaeologists said on Sunday they had discovered the largest underground quarry in the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Jesus and containing Christian symbols etched into the walls.

    The 4,000-square-meter (yard) cavern, buried 10 meters beneath the desert near the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, was dug about 2,000 years ago and was in use for about half a millennium, archaeologist Adam Zertal said.

    The cave’s main hall, about three meters tall, is supported by some 20 stone pillars and has a variety of symbols etched into the walls, including crosses dating back to about AD 350 and Roman legionary emblems.

    Zertal said his team from Haifa University first discovered the site three months ago while they were putting together a detailed archaeological map of the area.

    “We saw a hole in the ground . and went down and discovered this giant cavern, originally a quarry, built uniquely with hall after hall,” Zertal told Reuters.

    The team believes the stones were used in buildings and churches in the region, but Zertal said further research was necessary.

    The site may eventually be turned into one of the largest underground tourist sites in the Holy Land, he said.


    Archaeologists discover King Herod's quarry

    Israeli archaeologists have uncovered an ancient quarry where they believe King Herod extracted stones for the construction of the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday.

    The archaeologists believe the 1,000-square-foot (100-square-meter) quarry was part of a much larger network of quarries used by Herod in the city. The biggest stones extracted from the quarry would have measured three yards (meters) long, two yards (meters) across, and two yards (meters) high.

    The archaeologists said the size of the stones indicates they could have been used in the construction of the Temple compound, including the Western Wall, a retaining wall that remains intact and is a Jewish shrine.

    "The dimensions of the stones that were produced in the quarry that was revealed are suitable for the Temple walls," said Ofer Sion, the dig's director.

    The two-week excavation, which was conducted before construction begins on an apartment complex at the site, also uncovered pottery, coins and what appear to be tools used in the quarry dating to the first century B.C.

    "Finding a large quarry related to the largest building project ever undertaken in Jerusalem . that's more than just another discovery," said archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, who was not involved in the excavation. "It's an additional block that slowly reveals the picture of construction in ancient Jerusalem."

    Herod was the Roman-appointed king of the Holy Land from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. and was known for his many major building projects, including the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by Roman legions following a Jewish revolt.

    Excavation at the site is almost complete, and the Israel Antiquities Authority says construction of the apartments will begin in the coming weeks.

    Because of the amount of ancient remains in Israel, builders are required to carry out a salvage excavation before beginning construction. Such digs regularly turn up important finds.


    Ritual purity

    While most people at the time used pots and storage jars made of clay, Jewish people observing the laws of ritual purity, or kashrut, may also have used stone. Jewish law dictated that any contact with something that is "ritually impure" required an object to be purified. (Things that could make something ritually impure included contact with certain types of animal corpses, genital discharges and skin diseases. Using the wrong dishes for foods that should not be mixed, such as meat and milk, can also render certain food dishes un-kosher, or impure, as well.)

    In Roman times, pottery, because it is porous, was thought to be easily contaminated objects that touched something impure had to be destroyed. Stone, meanwhile, was thought to be impervious to impurity and therefore did not require any kind of purification.


    Ancient quarry proves human impact on landscape

    Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem uncovered in central Israel the earliest known Neolithic quarry in the southern Levant, dating back 11,000 years. Finds from the site indicate large-scale quarrying activities to extract flint and limestone for the purpose of manufacturing working tools.

    In a research paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of archeologists, led by Dr. Leore Grosman and Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, showed how inhabitants of the Neolithic communities changed their landscape forever.

    "Humans became more dominant and influential in their terrestrial landscape and Kaizer Hill quarry provides dramatic evidence to the alteration of the landscape," said Dr. Grosman.

    Kaizer Hill quarry is the first of its age, size and scope to be revealed in the southern Levant, where the Neolithic culture is believed to have begun and farming communities have developed. The introduction of farming is widely regarded as one of the biggest changes in human history, and "domestication" of the landscape was a significant process in the changing approach to nature.

    The quarry is assigned to the Neolithic Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) culture, one of the incipient cultural stages in the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming way of life.

    The gradual transition to agricultural subsistence, when people learned how to produce their food rather than acquiring it, was accompanied by a changing attitude to 'landscape' and the practices of using the surrounding nature for the benefit of humans.

    "The economic shift, from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, was accompanied by numerous changes in the social and technological spheres. Various quarrying marks including cup marks showed that the cutting of stones was done in various strategies, including identifying potential flint pockets creating quarrying fronts on the rocks removing blocks to allow extraction of flint creating areas for quarrying dump and using drilling and chiseling as a primary technique for extracting flint," said Prof. Goren-Inbar.

    Researchers suggested a new interpretation to bedrock damage markings on the site of Kaizer Hill quarry, located on a 300 meter-high hill on the outskirts of the sprawling city of Modi'in, some 35 km west of Jerusalem.

    "At the peak of the hill we found damaged rock surfaces, providing evidence to quarrying activity aimed at extracting flint nodules and exploiting the thick layer of caliche (a sedimentary rock locally known by the Arabic term Nari)," said Dr. Leore Grosman.

    "The ancient people at the time carved the stone with flint working tools (for example axes). This suggestion differs from the commonly held view, which considers all features defined as cup marks to be devices that were primarily involved in a variety of grinding, food preparation, social or even symbolic activities," researchers wrote in their paper.

    Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.


    Maze of tunnels reveals remains of ancient Jerusalem

    Controversial excavations under the Holy City uncover layers of history and stoke long-standing tensions.

    ‘Duck down’ is Joe Uziel’s constant refrain.

    I’m struggling to keep up with the Israeli archaeologist as he slips his thin frame easily through the twisting and narrow tunnel studded with protruding rock. With only the light of our smartphones to guide us, I bend low to prevent my battered yellow hard hat from scraping the stone overhead. Then he stops abruptly. “I’m going to show you something cool.”

    The cramped passage lies beneath a rocky spur of land jutting south from Jerusalem’s Old City. The narrow ridge, the site of early Jerusalem and today packed with houses occupied mostly by Palestinian residents, conceals a subterranean labyrinth of natural caves, Canaanite water channels, Judaean tunnels, and Roman quarries. This particular passage is of more recent vintage than most, having been hewed by two British archaeologists in the 1890s.

    I follow Uziel into a recently excavated space that’s the size and height of a comfortable suburban living room. His light picks out a stubby, pale cylinder. “It’s a Byzantine column,” he explains, crouching down to pull back a lumpy sandbag, revealing a smooth white surface. “And this is a portion of the marble floor.”

    We are standing in a fifth-century church built to commemorate the site where Jesus is said to have cured a blind man near the Pool of Siloam. The sanctuary fell out of use, its roof eventually collapsed, and the ancient building over time joined the city’s vast underground realm.

    For Uziel the church is more than cool. It’s also the latest complication in one of the world’s most expensive and controversial archaeological projects. His mission is to unearth a 2,000-year-old, 2,000-foot-long street that once conveyed pilgrims, merchants, and other visitors to one of the wonders of ancient Palestine: the Jewish Temple. Choked with debris during the fiery destruction of the city by Roman forces in A.D. 70, this monumental path disappeared from view.

    “Because of the church, we have to change direction,” says Uziel. “You never know what you are going to hit.” He already has bumped into Jewish ritual baths, a late Roman building, and the foundations of an early Islamic palace. Each has to be mapped and studied, and a detour found or a path made by removing the obstacle or drilling through the impediment.

    When the British excavators burrowed their way into the church, tunneling was common. Today, except under special circumstances, it is seen as both dangerous and unscientific. Here, however, excavating from the surface down is impractical, given that people live just yards above. Instead, an army of engineers and construction workers, toiling 16 hours a day in two shifts, is boring a horizontal shaft under the spine of the ridge. As they move forward, Uziel and his team laboriously dig out earth from the top of each newly exposed section to the bottom, retrieving pottery, coins, and other artifacts. Whether this method is scientifically sound depends on which Israeli archaeologist you ask. For some it’s revolutionary for others it’s deeply misguided.

    Tunnel workers battle unstable soil that has led to cave-ins, while residents living above complain of damage to their homes. The ambitious project, funded largely by a Jewish settler organization, is in a particularly sensitive spot in East Jerusalem, the area of the city annexed by Israel in 1967 that much of the world considers occupied territory. (Most excavation in such territory is illegal under international law.) Called Wadi Hilweh by Palestinians, for Jews this is the City of David, the place where King David created the first Israelite capital.

    Uziel leads me back through the narrow passage, and we emerge into a completed portion of the new tunnel. In the sudden glare I’m almost clobbered by a plastic bucket filled with earth sailing by on an overhead conveyor belt. Unlike the dark and dank British shaft, this one is braced in shiny steel and resembles a subway line in size and shape. Instead of tracks, however, ancient limestone steps gleam into the distance. “Some of these stones seem virtually untouched,” the archaeologist marvels as we stroll up the broad stairs. “This was the main street of early Roman Jerusalem. Pilgrims purified themselves at the pool and then made their way up to the Temple.”

    The path proved short-lived. Unearthed coins suggest that a notorious gentile oversaw construction of the monumental staircase around A.D. 30, a Roman prefect best known for ordering the Crucifixion of Jesus: Pontius Pilate.

    “Truth shall spring out of the earth,” say the Psalms, but whose truth is the question that haunts Jerusalem. In a city central to the three great monotheistic faiths, putting a spade into the ground can have immediate and far-reaching consequences. In few places on Earth can an archaeological excavation so quickly spark a riot, threaten a regional war, or set the entire world on edge.

    After the Israeli government opened a new exit to an underground passage along a part of the Western Wall in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter in 1996, some 120 people across the region died during violent protests. Subsequent squabbling over who should control what lies beneath the sacred platform that Jews refer to as Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and Arabs call Haram al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) helped scuttle the Oslo peace accord. Even the recent construction of Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance has come under fire for destroying Muslim graves.

    “Archaeology in Jerusalem is so sensitive that it touches not just the research community but politicians and the general public,” acknowledges Yuval Baruch of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). Baruch is chief of the IAA’s busy Jerusalem office, and he’s proud of his unofficial title as the mayor of underground Jerusalem. Under his reign the city has become one of the world’s busiest archaeological sites, with around a hundred excavations a year.

    Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has complained that the constant digging is part of a campaign to overwhelm 1,400 years of Muslim heritage with Jewish finds. “Here archaeology is not merely about scientific knowledge—it is a political science,” adds Yusuf Natsheh, director of Islamic archaeology for the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the religious foundation that oversees Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites.

    Baruch hotly denies any bias in what’s excavated. Whether Canaanite or crusader, each era gets its scientific due, he insists. There is no doubt that Israeli archaeologists are among the best trained in the world. Yet there’s also no doubt that archaeology is wielded as a political weapon in the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Israelis having the edge since they control all excavation permits in and around Jerusalem. At a speech in 2011 before the United Nations General Assembly, the Israeli prime minister said he kept in his office a 2,800-year-old signet ring found near the Western Wall inscribed with his family’s adopted surname, Netanyahu, citing it as a physical token of Jerusalem’s Jewish past.

    Politics, religion, and archaeology have long been deeply entwined here. Around A.D. 327, Empress Helena presided over the demolition of a Roman temple. “She opened up the earth, scattered the dust, and found three crosses in disarray,” according to a nearly contemporary source. The elderly mother of Constantine the Great, she declared one to be the piece of wood on which Jesus was crucified. What was hailed as the True Cross, the most famous of Christian artifacts, helped spark interest in sacred Christian relics. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre soon rose over the site.

    Some 1,500 years later, a French scholar and politician named Louis-Félicien Joseph Caignart de Saulcy launched the city’s first archaeological excavation and sparked another craze. In 1863 he dug out a complex of elaborate tombs, enraging local Jews who filled in at night what his workers exposed in the day. Undeterred, de Saulcy hauled to the Louvre an ancient sarcophagus containing the remains of what he claimed was an early Jewish queen.

    Other European explorers arrived to seek their own biblical treasures. In 1867 the British dispatched a young Welshman to probe Jerusalem’s underground terrain. Charles Warren hired local crews to dig deep shafts and tunnels that kept his work from the prying eyes of Ottoman officials who then controlled Jerusalem. When digging proved difficult, he used dynamite to clear pockets of stone. Warren’s astonishing exploits—he once explored a sewage channel by laying old doors across the muck—and his remarkably precise maps are still a wonder. But another legacy may be an enduring mistrust of archaeologists among the city’s Muslims.

    A century later, when Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Arab forces during the 1967 Six Day War, Jewish archaeologists launched major scientific excavations that became a centerpiece of the young country’s efforts to prove and celebrate its ancient roots. They unearthed first-century villas of the Jewish elite filled with elegant mosaics and painted walls. But they also exposed parts of the long-lost Nea Church that had been built 500 years later and was second in importance only to the Holy Sepulchre, as well as ruins of an enormous complex constructed by early Muslim rulers.

    Some excavations, however, were overtly religious. Only a few segments of the Western Wall—a remnant of Herod the Great’s Temple platform and Judaism’s most sacred site where Jews can pray—are aboveground, so after the Six Day War, the Ministry of Religion began an effort to expose its entire length by digging tunnels. Longer than the Empire State Building is tall, the wall is covered by later buildings along more than half its length. For almost two decades there was little archaeological supervision of the tunnel work, and untold data were lost, says Israeli archaeologist Dan Bahat, who agitated successfully for archaeological control over the digs. The work also fed Muslim suspicions that the real Israeli goal was to penetrate the wall and access the sacred platform.

    One summer morning in 1981, just after Raiders of the Lost Ark opened in theaters, those suspicions were confirmed. Guards from the waqf encountered a prominent rabbi knocking down a crusader-era wall that sealed an ancient subterranean gate beneath the sacred platform. The rabbi believed the lost ark was secreted beneath the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s oldest and holiest shrines. An underground scuffle ensued, and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin quickly ordered the gate sealed before the conflict could morph into a full-fledged international crisis.

    Fifteen years later, it was the turn of Israeli Jews to express outrage. In 1996 the waqf turned one of Jerusalem’s most impressive underground spaces, an enormous columned hall beneath the southeastern end of the platform known as Solomon’s Stables, from a dusty storeroom into the large Al Marwani Mosque. Three years later, the Israeli prime minister’s office granted a waqf request to open a new exit to ensure crowd safety—Israel controls security on the platform—but without informing the IAA.

    Heavy machinery quickly scooped out a vast pit without formal archaeological supervision. “By the time we got wind of it and stopped the work, a huge amount of damage had been done,” recalls the IAA’s Jon Seligman, then in charge of Jerusalem archaeology. Nazmi Al Jubeh, a Palestinian historian and archaeologist at Birzeit University, disagrees. “Nothing was destroyed,” he says. “I was there, monitoring the digging to be sure they did not expose archaeological layers. Before they did, I yelled, ‘Khalas!’ ”—Enough! in Arabic.

    Israeli police later hauled the resulting tons of earth away. In 2004 a privately funded sifting project started sorting through the dirt and has so far recovered more than half a million artifacts. When I visit the project’s lab, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay pulls out cardboard boxes containing chunks of colored marble he believes came from courtyards surrounding the Jewish Temple. Seligman and many of his colleagues, however, dismiss the finds as having little value, since they were discovered out of context and might have been deposited on the platform in later periods. “The paradox,” he adds, “was that most of what was destroyed by the waqf was Islamic.”

    On a drizzly winter morning I make my way to the entrance of the Western Wall tunnels, just off the plaza dense with men in black hats and coats. Inside is a jumble of underground reception halls, prayer areas, and archaeological excavations. Down the hall from a glass-and-steel synagogue cantilevered within a medieval Islamic religious school are Roman latrines and a recently unearthed small theater—the first found in ancient Jerusalem—built as part of the second-century revival of the city as Aelia Capitolina.

    Many Palestinians believe the Jerusalem excavations and attempts to displace them are intimately connected.

    At a plywood door covering a stone arch, I meet Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah. She speaks as fast as she moves. “Come, come. I must get back down,” the IAA archaeologist says as she trots down stairs that smell of freshly sawed wood. In the humid chamber below, three young Arab men in T-shirts casually maneuver a two-ton stone dangling from iron chains. Weksler-Bdolah explains that it’s being moved to give tourists access to what she argues were formal banquet rooms built during the rule of Herod the Great.

    “We are standing in the western triclinium”—a Roman term for a dining area with couches—“and the eastern hall is just beyond that passage,” she says while keeping an eye on the gently swaying rock. According to her research, the elegant compound was built in the first century B.C. to wine and dine important visitors in grand fashion. Hidden lead pipes spouted water to create a pleasing ambience.

    Weksler-Bdolah excuses herself when an engineer in a white helmet calls out from above. They have a long and heated discussion over a section of yellow plaster that he wants to remove to accommodate a metal stairway for tourists. “This is Roman-era plaster and very unusual,” she says to me in an aside. These are the sort of debates that echo regularly beneath the streets of Jerusalem: What should remain, and what should be sacrificed?

    A century and a half of discoveries under Jerusalem have upset old beliefs and dashed cherished myths. Many archaeologists today dismiss the biblical vision of King Solomon’s glittering capital of a large empire. The famous monarch is not even mentioned in any archaeological find of the era. Early Jerusalem was more likely a minor fortified hill town. Nor did the arrival of Islam in the seventh century A.D. suddenly displace Christianity, as historians long assumed. Many excavations show little change in the day-to-day life of Christian residents.

    Yet the digs have unearthed clay seal impressions bearing the names of biblical courtiers, lending credibility to their existence. Archaeological work also backs Empress Helena’s assertion that Jesus was crucified and buried on land that is within what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And archaeologist Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem even claims to have found the palace of King David, the first Israelite ruler of Jerusalem.

    One quiet Saturday morning, the Jewish Sabbath, I run into Mazar as she wanders through the otherwise deserted City of David park. On the northeastern edge of the narrow ridge, she excavated a building with thick walls next to an impressive stepped stone structure that braces the steep slope. Based on the pottery she found, Mazar dates the building to around 1000 B.C.—the traditional date assigned to the Israelite takeover of Jebusite Jerusalem.

    She is so deep in thought that I have to call her name twice to bring her out of her reverie. “I like to come here when it is quiet to think,” she explains. She invites me down steps that lead to a metal catwalk above her famous excavation. She leans over the rail and points at the rubble below. “This was an extension of the old Canaanite palace, but the building is something new. This is a king with a vision, who built something large and impressive in a skilled manner.” For Mazar, that can only be King David. “Everything fits the story in the Bible.”

    Her 2005 discovery made headlines around the world, but colleagues remain mostly unconvinced. She relies heavily on pottery for dating, rather than more modern methods such as radiocarbon, and her literal reading of the Bible is seen by many archaeologists as flawed. Even the sign on the catwalk adds a question mark to the identification of the site: “The remains of King David’s palace?”

    “I rely on facts,” she says, a touch of irritation in her voice when I raise the objections of other academics. “What people believe is a different story. It takes time for people to accept what’s new. I can’t wait.”

    Mazar is eager to dig just to the north, where she believes the famous palace of David’s son, Solomon, lies hidden. “I am sure it is there,” she says with a sudden fierceness. “We need to excavate this!”

    She’s preparing a request for permission to dig the site. Whether the IAA will approve her further excavation is in question. “Today, if you dig, you need solid data—not just coins or pottery, but results using physics and biology,” says the IAA’s Baruch. “Eilat Mazar is not playing in this game.”

    Across the street from Mazar’s putative palace of David, Yuval Gadot epitomizes this new game. The tall and affable Tel Aviv University archaeologist once opposed Israeli digs in this overwhelmingly Palestinian neighborhood, but the opportunity to lead the city’s largest recent excavation proved too tempting to refuse. What once was a dusty parking lot is now an enormous pit open to the sky, encompassing much of the city’s past 2,600 years, from early Islamic workshops and a Roman villa to impressive Iron Age buildings predating the Babylonian destruction of 586 B.C. Much of the work takes place in off-site labs, where specialists analyze everything from ancient parasites in Islamic cesspits to intricate gold jewelry from the days of Greek rule.

    Soon the excavation will open to the public, beneath a large new visitors center to accommodate the increasing hordes of tourists. Gadot, Mazar, and Uziel have helped turn this quiet Arab village into one of Israel’s most popular attractions in a city rated among the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations. At night their archaeological sites serve as dramatic backdrops for laser light shows.

    “Here it began, and here it continues,” thunders the narrator amid colored lights and swelling music. “The return to Zion!”

    What was a parking lot is an open pit with 2,600 years of history: early Islamic workshops, a Roman villa, and Iron Age buildings.

    The organization behind this effort is the City of David Foundation. Created by former Israeli military commander David Be’eri in the 1980s to establish a strong Jewish presence, it has funded the lion’s share of recent archaeology here. Along with deep pockets provided by foreign and Israeli donors, the group boasts excellent political connections. At a lavish ceremony last June, U.S. ambassador David Friedman swung a hammer to break a wall, inaugurating the first segment of Uziel’s tunnel. “This is the truth,” he said of the ancient street. The White House Middle East envoy called Palestinian criticism of the event “ludicrous.”

    When I meet with the foundation’s vice president, Doron Spielman, he is bullish about the future. “If the next 10 years are like the last 10 years, this will be the number one archaeological spot in the world,” says the Jewish native of the Detroit suburbs. Spielman expects the visitor tally to nearly quadruple to two million in a decade. “There is a fascination for a people who have existed for thousands of years,” he says. “This isn’t like an Akkadian site. The people who began here are still here.”

    In his telling, the development helps everyone. “People buy their Popsicles and drinks from Arab stores,” he says. “And there is a lot of security that benefits both Arabs and Jews.” He is also optimistic about the impact of Jewish residents, who now number about one in 10 and who live largely in gated compounds patrolled by armed guards. “You will see this as a model of coexistence. People will be living together within an active archaeology site with a lot of opportunity.”

    That's not how Abd Yusuf, a burly local shopkeeper, sees it. “Business is terrible!” he tells me, as he sits amid Jerusalem-themed knickknacks. “We used to have so many tourists, but now no one comes. They take all the tourists to their shops,” he adds, referring to the City of David’s concessions. Then he points to cracks in his wall. “I have had to replace my door three times because the earth shifts beneath.”

    Just up the street, I pay a visit to Sahar Abbasi, an English teacher who also works as deputy director at the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, a Palestinian organization housed in a modest storefront. “The excavations pose many challenges,” she says. “Our homes are being damaged and destroyed.” She estimates that 40 houses have been affected, half of them severely, while five families have been evicted from dwellings considered unsafe.

    “If they can’t control us from above, they start to control us from below,” Abbasi adds.

    One morning, off a narrow alley above Uziel’s tunnel, Arafat Hamad welcomes me into his courtyard studded with lemon trees. A retired barber, Hamad has short silver hair and a fast smile that fades quickly. “I built this house in 1964 with a thick concrete foundation, but look what has happened in the past couple of years,” he says, pointing to wide cracks that creep up to just below the first-floor windows. Taking me around to the side of the house, Hamad points to piles of rubble. “One evening last August we were sitting on the porch when the house began to shake,” he recalls. “We could hear them working below with heavy machinery. If you put your hand to the floor, you could feel the vibrations. We fled the house to neighbors’, and then we heard a bang—and we could see the cloud of dust rising from where our outdoor kitchen had been.”

    Across the street, Hamad’s neighbor, an older woman named Miriam Bashir, doesn’t seem happy to see me. “I’m fed up with journalists,” she says. “I just want to be left alone. We are lost. We don’t know what to do!”

    After a few minutes she relents and agrees to show me the damage to her interior walls. “The cracks began three years ago, but they became more obvious in the past year and a half,” she says. As I say goodbye to Bashir at her gate, she smiles for the first time. “I would like you to relate our story in an honest and clear way. We are peaceful people who live here, and we will stay here despite the damage.”

    When I spoke with Spielman, he dismissed the concerns of Arab residents. “Yes, we are working under people’s homes, which is not an issue if it is engineered well, which it is.”

    Three days after my visit to the Palestinians, Spielman sent a chilly email warning me against providing a stage for “the claims of politically motivated, anti-Israel, special interest groups.” He requested that I supply in writing the details of any “nefarious claims” before publication. My repeated attempts to speak again with him and other City of David officials were met with silence. The waqf’s Natsheh is not so reticent. For him the excavations and attempts to displace Palestinians are intimately connected. “Archaeology should not be a tool for justifying occupation,” he says.

    What lies beneath Jerusalem reveals that the city’s history is too rich and complicated to fit any single narrative, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Helena failed to wipe away its pagan past, just as the Romans fell short of annihilating the rebellious Judaean capital and Muslims couldn’t remove all traces of the hated crusader occupation. No matter who is in charge of this most contested of places, evidence from the past inevitably will surface, challenging any story tailored to a narrow political or religious agenda.

    “Everyone who ruled Jerusalem did the same thing: built his tower and hoisted his flag,” says Weksler-Bdolah with a laugh, taking the long view demanded by this venerable and violent place. “But I think it is stronger than all those who try to control it. No one can completely erase what came before.”


    The 10 greatest mysteries in Israel

    A land whose history stretches back millennia, Israel is bursting with intriguing mysteries. Some remain unsolved from thousands of years ago. New ones are uncovered in hundreds of archeological digs taking place in Israel every year.

    Here are our 10 favorite Holy Land mysteries.

    1. The Ark of the Covenant

    The missing gilded wooden Ark of the Covenant has fascinated adventurers, historians and Hollywood filmmakers for ages.

    Topped with golden cherubim, this chest held the tablets of the Ten Commandments and occupied the Holy of Holies in the desert Tabernacle and the First Temple.

    Babylonian invaders destroyed the Temple around 586 BCE. The list of treasures they took doesn’t include the ark. Most likely it had been hidden or sent away for safekeeping. By the time the Second Temple was built, nobody knew where it was.

    Contrary to the Indiana Jones film “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” it has never been found. Some treasure-hunters believe it’s sealed in a Qumran cave near the Dead Sea, or that it’s far away in Ethiopia.

    Others believe the Ark of the Covenant is hidden behind an ancient manmade stone wall of a cistern beneath Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Political-religious sensitivities have kept archeologists from investigating.

    You can see the mysterious wall on a guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnels. To learn more, watch the first segment of the video below.

    A stone’s throw from the baptismal site of Jesus on the Jordan River is a conical mound of stones in the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) dating from the third century BCE.

    Today the mound is a convenient rest stop for summer birds, but some Christian speculators think it could have provided the platform for Jesus’ miracle of walking on water.

    Prof. Shmuel Marco from Tel Aviv University believes the stones were a monument built to protect human remains, most likely constructed on land and pushed out to sea by an earthquake.

    3. Galgal Refaim

    The mysterious ancients responsible for Britain’s Stonehenge could not have built Galgal Refaim (“wheel of ghosts”) or Rujm al-Hiri in Arabic (“stone heap of the wild cats”) between roads 808 and 98 in Israel’s Golan Heights.

    But like the much younger Stonehenge, Galgal Refaim (also called Gilgal Refaim) is remarkable for its stone structure achieved perhaps 6,000 years ago. An estimated 42,000 tons of basalt stone are laid out in four huge concentric circles that may have reached as high as 30 feet. The prevailing theory is that it was some sort of burial complex or cultic center – or both.

    4. Missing graves of the Maccabees

    Ancient sources state that the tombs of the Hasmonean heroes of the second-century BCE Hanukkah story – Matityahu the priest, his wife and his five sons, known as the Maccabees – were marked by a magnificent pyramid structure visible from miles away.

    This definitely isn’t the modern Maccabean Graves tourist site, which dates from about 500 years after the time of Matityahu.

    Adventurers, archeologists and scholars searched unsuccessfully since 1866 for the real monument in the area of Modi’in, where the Maccabees lived.

    And then, in 2015, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists reexamined a pillared structure found 150 years ago at Horbat Ha-Gardi, near the ancient location of Modi’in. It was identified as a Christian burial site from 200 years after the Maccabees. But a new theory is that early Christians intentionally chose the Maccabee graveyard as the site for their cemetery.

    “If what we uncovered is not the Tomb of the Maccabees itself, then there is a high probability that this is the site that early Christianity identified as the royal funerary enclosure [for the Maccabees], and therefore, perhaps, erected the structure,” said IAA archeologists Dan Shachar and Amit Re’em.

    5. Atlit-Yam

    Was this Israeli version of Atlantis washed away in Noah’s flood? Overtaken by a prehistoric tsunami or glacial meltdown?

    It is not clear how the Late Neolithic-era Atlit-Yam village, some 400 meters off the shore between Atlit and Haifa, got submerged.

    Discovered in 1984 during an underwater archeological survey, Atlit-Yam was hailed as the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement ever uncovered off the Mediterranean coast. The 8,500-year-old village contains rectangular and round structures, 65 human skeletons, seeds of wheat, barley, lentils and flax, and thousands of fish and animal bones.

    6. Loaves & Fishes mosaic

    Did ancient artisans depict Jesus’ Feeding the Multitude miracle in a mosaic unearthed last year in the Burnt Church of Hippos east of the Sea of Galilee?

    The colorful mosaic includes geometric patterns and depictions of birds, fish and fruit along with 12 baskets, some containing loaves.

    “There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic, but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament,” said Michael Eisenberg, head of the multinational excavation team in Hippos on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa.

    While early Christian tradition placed the miracle at the site of the fifth-century Church of the Multiplication on the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, Eisenberg says that a careful reading of the Gospels indicates it could have taken place north of Hippos. Perhaps continuing excavations in Hippos National Park will uncover additional clues.

    7. Jesus’ family tomb… or not

    An Israeli collector bought a limestone bone box, or ossuary, dating from the early Common Era, 31 years ago from an Arab antiquities dealer. The ossuary got international attention because it bears the Aramaic inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

    The Israel Antiquities Authority charged that the collector forged the “brother of Jesus” part of the inscription. Following a seven-year trial, he was acquitted by a Jerusalem court in 2012 and got to keep his treasure. But scholars continue to debate the inscription’s authenticity.

    8. The case of the decorated dolmen

    In 2017, archaeologists from Tel Hai College, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem discovered a huge dolmen (a large table-like stone structure) estimated to be more than 4,000 years old.

    The rare find was made in a large field of 400 Bronze-Age dolmens adjacent to Kibbutz Shamir in the Upper Galilee. This particular dolmen is unique for its unusual size, the structure surrounding it and especially the artistic decorations engraved in its ceiling.

    “This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East,” said Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority and a partner in the study.

    The engraved shapes depict a straight line going to the center of an arc. About 15 such engravings were documented on the ceiling of the dolmen, spread out in a kind of arc. No similar rock drawings have been found in the Middle East, and their significance is not known.

    Nor do archeologists know the circumstances surrounding the construction of the dolmens, the technology used or the culture of the people who built them.

    9. Zedekiah’s Cave

    This quarry under the northern wall of Jerusalem’s Old City lay buried for more than 300 years until, in 1854, an American missionary’s dog dug through dirt near the wall and disappeared through an opening.

    Legend has it that this was the cave through which biblical King Zedekiah unsuccessfully attempted to flee Jerusalem when the Babylonians conquered the city in 586 BCE.

    The cave’s other nickname is Solomon’s Quarry. The Freemasons of Israel hold an annual secretive ceremony here as they consider King Solomon the original freemason. But it’s more probable that stones cut here were used for the fourth-century BCE Second Temple of Herod rather than Solomon’s ninth-century First Temple.

    Adding to the cave’s allure, in 1968 a Jerusalem resident claimed his grandfather had buried three cases of gold in Zedekiah’s Cave. He offered a quarter of the loot to the government if it would finance a dig. Nothing was found.

    10. Masada: fact, fiction or fusion?

    The Roman historian Josephus recorded an epic story about a band of nearly 1,000 Jews who moved to an old Herodian fortress (metzada in Hebrew) on a mountaintop near the Dead Sea and bravely held off the conquering Roman Legion from 73-74 CE, ultimately choosing suicide over captivity.

    Masada National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel and has come to symbolize courage in the face of persecution.

    You can still see the outlines of the Roman encampment at the bottom of the mountain. However, archaeological evidence of the episode is slim: pottery sherds bearing the names of 12 Jewish men, and 28 skeletal remains.

    What happened to the others? Did only some of the rebels take their own lives? Were the other bodies stolen? Perhaps the entire story was concocted or embellished by Josephus to glorify the Roman Empire?

    We may never know… but the mystery only makes Masada even more intriguing to visit.


    Watch the video: αρχαία λατομεία της Πάρου, δίπλα στον οικισμό Μαράθι (January 2022).